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Great Sikh Women

Bebe Nanaki Ji

Bebe Nanaki Ji

Bebe Nanaki ji was elder sister of Guru Nanak and the daughter of Kalian Chand (Baba Kalu) and Mata Tripta, was born in 1464 in her mother’s home at village of Chahal, now in Lahore district of Pakistan Punjab. The Guru’s love for his sister is referred to in most touching terms in some of the Sakhis. A sister’s love for her brother is a perennial theme of Punjabi folklore. There are many stories of Nanaki’s deep and devoted affection for her brother, Nanak. Five years older then Guru Nanak, she was the first to recognize his spiritual eminence and to become his devotee. She protected Nanak from their father’s wrath, when repeatedly he disappointed and angered him.

She was with him throughout the early years of his childhood. When Guru Nanak Dev was only Six years old in 1475, Nanaki was married to Jai Ram, a revenue official of very good reputation, at Sultanpur, which is in the present native state of Kapurthala, and was then the capital of the Jalandhar Doab. Nanak continued to live at home. He rebelled against any norms that were imposed without reason. He loved to be in the company of saints who were The wise men of the day, and gave money away to the poor and the hungry. His father despaired of never being able to make him behave and take on a respectable position in the village. And so it was that his father gave up, and so, at the age of fifteen, Nanak was sent to live with his sister, and to work for her husband. It was Jai Ram who arranged the wedding of Nanak to Sulakhani, daughter of Moolchand Chand Khatri and Mata Chando of the village Pakhoke, District Gurdaspur. Herself Childless, Bebe Nanaki adored her brother, Nanak, and felt herself blessed when he came to join the Nawab’s service and put up with her at Sultanpur.


She arranged Guru Nanak’s marriage and she loved his sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi das, as her own. Guru Nanak reciprocated her affection and after he had quit the Nawab’s service to go out to preach his message, he did not fail to visit Sultanpur and meet his sister between whiles. Once as he visited her in 1518, Bebe Nanaki seeing her end near, detained him a short while. As she had wished, she departed this likfe in the presence of her brother- Guru Nanak Dev ji. Three days later, her husband, Jai Ram, also expired. Guru Nanak himself performed their obsequies. There is no doubt that perhaps first Gur Sikh was none other than Bebe Nanaki and second Gursikh was Mata Sullakhni ji, Guru Nanak Dev’s Wife.

Excerpts taken from these books.
Encyclopedia of Sikhism edited by Harbans Singh.
Mahima Prakash written by Sarup Das Bhalla, Patiala 1970.

In the Punjabi language, out of respect, elder sister is called Bebe. Bebe Nanki was the elder sister of Guru Nanak. She has a special place in the Sikh history. She played an important role in the spread of Sikhism. She was the first disciple of Guru Nanak and so she is considered one of the prominent women in the Sikh history. She was born in 1464, five years before Guru Nanak to Mata Tripta and Mehta Kalu who lived at Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. She was born at the house of her maternal grandfather, Ram Ji,of village Chahal, district Lahore. Her maternal grandfather and grandmother loved her a lot and named her Nankian, which means house of maternal grandparents. By and by the word Nankian was changed into Nanki. Her uncle, Lalu Ram, was issueless. He loved her from the core of his heart and played with her. She also loved him very much. She was brought up in a lovely atmosphere in the house of her father who was a well to do revenue officer in the village. Her sharp features, round mouth, and cheerful face attracted everybody. Her mother taught her cooking and other household chores. She helped her mother in her daily household responsibilities. In fact, her mother’s training made Nanki adept in the household. She had a sweet tongue and was very popular with everybody she came in contact with. She was only five years old when her brother, Nanak, was born in 1469.

He was named after her and people said Nanak of Nanki. She was overjoyed to have a baby companion and started babysitting in the absence of her mother. As Nanak grew, she played with him, took him shopping and looked after his comforts. Right from his childhood, Nanak’s keen mind would not accept all groundless rituals and superstitions. Bebe Nanki was the first who recognized that Nanak was not an ordinary child, but a man of God. She was the first follower of Guru Nanak She stood between Nanak and her parents when they got mad with him and told them to recognize the true worth of Nanak. For her, Nanak was not only her brother (Veer) but also her Guru (Peer). When Nanak went to the river to take bath and did not return for two days, people thought he was drowned in the river, but she said that Nanak had taken birth to save the people and ferry them across this world, he cannot be drowned at all. She was married at the age of eleven in 1475 to Bhai Jai Ram, a revenue officer at Sultanpur under Nawab Dault Khan Lodhi. Early marriage was the custom those days. Five years after her marriage, when she started living with her husband, Nanak felt her separation so much. He did not take interest in worldly affairs and remained busy in meditation. Bebe Nanki was also longing for the company of her brother, Nanak. She prevailed upon her husband to find some job for Nanak at Sultanpur so that she can enjoy his company also. Consequently, Bhai Jai Ram got Nanak employed as storekeeper under the Nawab of Sultanpur in 1485. Thus she played the role of an elder sister to settle in life her younger brother. Now Bebe Nanki and her husband planned to get Nanak married so that he may have his independent life.

They were successful for finding a suitable match, Mata Sulakhni, for Nanak and with the consent of all concerned, the marriage was celebrated in 1487. The marriage party left Sultanpur for Batala, Distt Gurdaspur and came back to Sultanpur. After marriage, Nanak started living separately at Sultanpur. He was provided a big house by his sister. It shows how Bebe Nanki willingly performed the part of an elder sister by helping her younger brother. This tradition of elder brother or sister helping the younger one is part of our culture even today. It also shows the sisterly love that Bebe Nanki cherished for her brother. Guru Nanak also has expressed this type of love in one of his hymns given on page 935 of Guru Granth Sahib wherein he says when brother (soul) departs, sister (body) burns in separation. Bebe Nanki had a very good and cordial relation with her sister in law, Mata Sulakhni, and helped her in bringing up her sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Chand. She rather adopted Sri Chand as she herself was issueless. She even looked after her necessities and let her not feel lonely. Once, Sulakhni’s mother interfered and complained to Bebe Nanki that her brother was not keeping his wife happy. Bebe Nanki admonished her and convinced her that there was nothing to grumble. Thus, Nanki was also a great help in the family life of Nanak. . When Nanak got his accounts checked to the satisfaction of everybody, he planned to start on his missionary work to spread his message in the world, she assured him that she will look after his family in his absence and did not discourage him. In fact, the idea of depicting devotion to God in musical notes was due to the inspiration given by Bebe Nanki. She knew the musical talent of her brother and persuaded Mardana to accompany her brother. She also bought him a Rebab (musical instrument with strings) for him. This tradition of recitation of hymns with the help of musical instruments is still prevalent in Sikhism and has played a big role in the preaching of Sikhism. We cannot forget her role in the spread of Sikhism.

She removed all obstacles which hindered Guru Nanak from preaching his mission. When Guru Nanak spent many years in preaching his religion all over the world, Bebe Nanki took care of his parents, wife, and her nephews during Guru Nanak’s absence. This is a good example of our culture how brothers and sisters prove main pillars of help to each other. These values are a part of our culture and credit goes to Bebe Nanki. At the end of his second tour when Guru Nanak returned to Sultanpur, Bebe Nanki was not feeling well and asked him to stay for a few days. She breathed her last in a few days and Guru Nanak performed her funeral rights. She lived at Sultanpur for about forty years. A tree planted by her provides shade to the people still. There is also a well, which she had constructed for the people. Really, everybody can be proud of a sister like Bebe Nanki. She was the first disciple of Guru Nanak and the first one to perceive the holiness in Guru Nanak’s person. There is no doubt that the first Gursikh was none other than Bebe Nanki. Like a wise daughter, she explained the Guru’s mission to her parents and sheltered Guru Nanak from their anger. She treated her brother like God and played an important role in the mission of Guru Nanak. We cannot forget her role in the spread of Sikhism. Contribution of Bebe Nanki in the spread of Sikhism is really unique and praiseworthy. Bebe Nanki’s status in Sikhism can be safely compared to that of Mother Merriam in Christianity and to that of Bibi Khudejai in Islam.

Bibi Nanaki

(1464 – 1518)

Bibi Nanaki Ji was the elder sister of Guru Nanak. She was born to Mehta Kalu Ji and Mata Tripta Ji. Her birth took place in 1464 at her mother’s village of Chahal, now in the Lahore district of Pakistan. This is explained in the Sooraj Parkash as follows:

ihm igir mYnw ky Gir mwhI[

pwrbqI jnmI ijm AwhI[

BeI nwnkI sB gux KwnI[

mwno Bgq Dr dyh suhwnI[

(sUrj pRkwS)

Five years later, in 1469, her brother, Guru Nanak Saheb came to this world in Talwandi.

Bibi Nanaki Ji was the first to recognize that Guru Nanak was not an ordinary man. While Mehta Kalu Ji, Mata Tripta Ji, and others would get upset with Guru Nanak’s actions, Bibi Nanaki Ji would encourage her brother on his mission.

There is no doubt that she was Guru Nanak’s first Sikh, first follower. All through her life, she did not think of Guru Nanak as her brother, instead she thought of him as her Guru. From an early age it became apparent that the brother and sister had a close relationship. There are many stories relating to their mutual affection and her deep faith in her brother’s purpose in life.

She was with him throughout the early years of his childhood. When Guru Nanak Saheb was only Six years old in 1475, his sister was married to Jai Ram Ji, a revenue official from Sultanpur, which is in the present-day native state of Kapurthala, and was then the capital of the Jalandhar Doab. Bibi Nanaki was only eleven years old when she was married.

Guru Nanak continued to live with his parents in Talwandi, but his parents were very much stressed with him. Mehta Kalu Ji would get upset with Guru Nanak because he would spend all day meditating or visiting saints and would not do any work around the house. Before her marriage, Bibi Nanaki Ji would calm her father, but now that she had moved away there was no one to stand up for the Guru.

One day, Guru Nanak Saheb Ji saw a poor saint and gave him a brass jug from home and some gold. When Mehta Kalu Ji found out, he was very upset and scolded his son. After this incident, Rai Bular, the village Chief suggested that Guru Nanak should move to Sultanpur and live with his loving sister. Mehta Kalu Ji agreed and during his teenage years, Guru Nanak moved to Sultanpur.

When Guru Nanak came to Sultanpur, Bibi Nanaki started to bow to her younger brother. The Guru stopped her and told her that she was his older sister and she should not bow to him. However, Bibi Nanaki responded, "That is true if you were a regular man, but you are more, to me, I see God in you."

Bhai Jai Ram himself had a great respect for his younger brother-in-law. He respected the Guru for his spirituality and considered himself blessed for being related to him. So he accepted the offer of Guru Nanak moving into his house.

Bhai Jai Ram Ji worked for Nawab Daulat Khan, the governor. He decided to ask Nawab Daulat Khan if he could find some work for Guru Nanak. The Nawab met Guru Nanak and was very pleased with the Guru’s personality. He gave Guru Nanak a job in the modhi khana (general store).

Bibi Nanaki and Bhai Jai Ram Ji were also the ones who arranged Guru Nanak’s marriage to Mata Sulakhni Ji, daughter of Baba Mool Chand and Mata Chando Rani from the village of Pakhoke, district Gurdaspur.

When Guru Nanak went missing in the Beas River, everyone had given up hope, they all thought that the Guru had drowned in the River. Bhai Jai Ram Ji was even writing a letter to Guru Nanak’s parents telling them that their son had drowned. However, Bibi Nanaki Ji kept faith, she told her husband not to write the letter and she told everyone else, “That my brother came to this world on a mission and he will not leave until the mission is completed.”

She is the only one who kept faith:

iek nwnkI qoN ibnwW AorY lok sok smwie[

(jnm swKI)

Translation: Besides Bibi Nanaki, all of the other people started to feel sad. She treated Guru Nanak’s sons as her own, while Guru Nanak went on his preaching journeys, Mata Sulakhni Ji took the younger son, Baba Lakhmi Das Ji to her parents home. The older son, Baba Sri Chand Ji stayed in Sultanpur and lived with Bibi Nanaki and Bhai Jai Ram Ji.

During the rest of their lives, Guru Nanak visited his Sister many times. He had promised to visit her whenever her heart yearned to see him:

Xwd kry gurU sI nwnkI phuMcy bwr nw lweI[ (pMQ pRkwS)

Translation: Whenever Bibi Nanaki would remember her brother, he would come meet her right away. (Panth Prakash)

Not only was he her younger brother, he was her Guru.

The last time Guru Nanak met his sister was in 1518. For Bibi Nanaki this visit was filled with joy, but also with sadness. Guru Nanak had said that he would only be visiting for three days. She begged that she should stay a little longer. After two days she suddenly fell ill. She breathed her last as the Guru’s sacred hymn, Japji Sahib, was being recited to her. Bhai Jai Ram himself did not live much longer. Three days later he also passed away. For Guru Nanak this was his last visit to Sultanpur. He had kept his promise to his sister and had visited her whenever her heart had called out for him. He was with her when she passed away.


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